Papa Alpha Sierra Sierra Echo Delta!

Heinous Lies

She is a stowaway, ignore her senseless prattle – I was leaving work behind, including Helga. Now she is with me, nagging all the time for sausages and schnapps. Serve her right if she falls into a canal.


As I mentioned earlier, you can’t, or perhaps I should say, shouldn’t, take charge of a 20 m barge without some training in how to handle her, and operate essential safety equipment. So, despite being desperate to see Neo Vita, we detoured south to Moissac in France to do training in barge handling, and then on the way back, stopped off to get our VHF radio certification.

Barge Handling

At present, the only English-speaking school outside of Britain that has a training program that will allow one to get an ICC certificate (the credential that allows one to legally cruise a barge) is at Noble Marine in Moissac. A lovely location, although a long way from Neo Vita.

After a rest day, we plunged into our two days of training, starting on Monday. Iain and Kaz run the training, Iain concentrating on the helm work, and Kaz on the deck work. Safety is a key feature of the training, but also included is rope handling, knots, signals, man overboard recovery, and swearing at incompetent rental barges.

Ian practising the "Hallelujah" throw

I won’t bother you with the details, but first Lisette took us out of the canal, down two locks, and into the Tarn river.

Lisette at the Helm

Then she cruised up the Tarn river to a chateau and mill, where we practised spinning ‘Orca’ around in circles.

Chateau near Moissac

I took her back up to Moissac, where we both practised mooring against a quay. I then took her back to the mooring on the canal,

Ian at the Helm

and moored her there. Iain decided we had shown enough competency to sit for our theory test, which we then did – and both passed well. All those hours of study, the flash cards and the cramming – paid off. So, as soon as we could get hold of passport photos, which I had forgotten to bring, we would have our licences.

We had originally planned for two days training, and so we asked if we could have some more practice the next day. So, on Tuesday, we set off down the Canal du Garrone for a short cruise past swing bridges and canal locks.

Again, this went pretty smoothly, and we were pretty happy that we had absorbed the basic skills. Came back, moored, stuck in the freshly printed photos and voila! we are certified.

Apart from the basic skills that the course teaches, the detailed explanations, punctured by Iain’s laugh, provided a great deal of reassurance that you did not have to be a third generation, ocean-going, old salt, to handle a barge. You still needed plenty of practice, but it was within the reach of ordinary folk such as us.

VHF Radio

While communication on the waterways in France has largely become an exercise in mobile phones, that is not the case in Belgium and the Netherlands in particular. For that and other reasons, we needed to become certified in VHF radio operation. For this we had studied an online course, sat an online exam (late on the night after our second training cruise) and then, after a train and plane journey back to Amsterdam, were to sit a further theory exam and a practical operation test.

By this time we are both tired, and tired of study. Still we passed the online exam, and once we arrived in Amsterdam, Geert-Jan of AquaPlanning took us gently through next test, allowed us some practice and carefully watched how we used the radios. Geert-Jan was also full of useful information and techniques for handling a VHF radio in the Netherlands and in the differences between the UK, France and the Netherlands. Invaluable information.

Again, we passed and sat down to do the paperwork, which went fine until we got to the part of supplying the passport photos. I’d forgotten we needed them, and they were still well packed in the car. A bit of digging later, I had them. Good thing we had plenty left over from the ICC certificate. Well planned I’d say.

So now we have a diesel maintenance certificate, ICC barge sailing certificates, VHF radio operation certificates – all we need is a barge.

And that comes tomorrow…